MORA, N.M. (KRQE) - A questionable shopping list has a pair of high-ranking school district officials at risk of losing their school business licenses from the New Mexico Public Education Department.
Roger Gonzales, the chief operating officer for Mora Independent Schools, and Agnes Padilla, the district's chief finance officer, first came under scrutiny after a review of the district's spending by the state auditor's office.
"This is stuff that is egregious and abusive in nature," State Auditor Hector Balderas told News 13.
According to Balderas, the 2009 audit shows Gonzales and Padilla misspent more than $64,000 over the course of several years, with much of the money going to gifts instead of to the district's operations.
"Basically they were using this activities account as their own personal ATM machine," Balderas said.
The audit report shows thousands of dollars were spent on gifts for district staff at the local grocery store in Mora, including more than $2,400 on hams and more than $1,600 for turkeys.
More than $13,000 went for jackets, clothing, and gifts like luxury hand cream for district staff and state legislators.
Another $1,500 was spent on retirement presents for outgoing employees and flower arrangements for funerals of employees who died.
"There was such a large amount of money that had actually been misspent," said Dora Romero, former superintendent for Mora Independent Schools.
Romero started asking questions after reviewing the district's spending, which included expenses she said she did not approve. Romero was surprised that two of her top employees were spending the district's money.
"It was supposed to be placed back in the operational fund and used on the children," said Romero, who requested an investigation from the state auditor.
Now the state Public Education Department is taking action to strip the school business licenses of Gonzales and Padilla, based largely on what the state auditor's report revealed.
Both received formal notice of the action back in March.
However, both still hold the same positions they held when the questionable spending took place.
"At this point I would trust the work that they are performing for the district in their related capacities," said Thomas Garcia, the current superintendent.
Gonzales and Padilla have already been disciplined with reprimands and administrative leave, Garcia told News 13.
Now the district is waiting on what the education department decides.
"Once they conclude with their administrative sanctions, then that will determine what action the district will take," Garcia said.
According to the superintendent, the integrity of the district's spending has been restored. The activities account that supplied the money for the questionable spending no longer exists.
"We've changed a lot of the ways that we do business in the district," Garcia said.
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